Army health expert shares mental health resources available to soldiers and families | Article
FORT KNOX, Ky. — May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, and an Army health expert shared the many ways Soldiers and their families can find help when they need it.
The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that one in five adults has experienced a mental health problem. It also indicates that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
As those numbers have steadily increased in recent years, Laura Johnson, head of behavioral health at the Irish Army Health Clinic, stressed the importance of recognizing how stressful everyone’s life can be.
“We’re able to overcome so many things,” Johnson said. “Our lives are so fast paced. We need to be able to stop, take a moment and ask ourselves, ‘What do I need?'”
Although mental health issues are common in society as a whole, Johnson pointed out that service members and their families are especially prone to situations that add mental strain. She said that on a scale of stressful life experiences, military families often face some of the toughest.
“There are a lot of unique stressors that come along with the part of the job that involves moving frequently,” Johnson said. “Everything we’re asking the military to do is very stressful – and those pressures are increasing.”
According to Johnson, one of the toughest mental health hurdles for the military to overcome is ironically woven into the fabric of the military.
“There’s usually a ‘power through it’ philosophy,” Johnson said. “It usually takes something big enough to get someone to see a doctor, even for a physical illness – so with a mental health issue or concern there is a stigma that is seen as a deep sense of failure if they can’t keep their mental health afloat – when in reality it’s of chemistry.
Johnson said she understands why it can be difficult for some service members to seek behavioral health care or even talk about issues they may be having, but there are alternatives.
“I never want to discourage anyone from coming to mental health,” Johnson said. “I think sometimes people wait until we’re exactly the right resource, but what if they started with the Army Wellness Center or the Chaplain?”
Johnson said that in addition to these two resources, there are ways for military families to ask for help without, in fact, reaching out; it’s as simple as connecting to the Internet.
“Military OneSource is a great resource,” Johnson said. “This is a wonderful place where you can find a list of great apps for [mental health] awareness and autonomy. They are very supportive if that is what you need, and also very enlightening.
Johnson urged not only service members to take advantage of the many mental health resources available, but also their dependents. She specifically mentioned the burden that many spouses carry that can be hard to bear – something she understands all too well.
“There is a deep pain that we as spouses carry with us,” Johnson said. “We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to say, ‘It’s too difficult and I need help.’ We’re so busy trying to stay together. I think that’s the most stressful part.
In addition to the many stressors they face, spouses can also fall into another mental health trap.
“I think we have these really largely impossible standards that we hold ourselves to that we would never impose on our best friend,” Johnson said. “We have to treat each other fairly.”
Social media is one of the main reasons people set these impossible standards, according to Johnson. She recommended that spouses log on less often to avoid constantly measuring life against what is posted by others.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Johnson said. “You compare your story to everyone’s highlight reel.”
Johnson offers two top recommendations for military families when it comes to mental health: seek help from the many resources on offer before things get really tough, and let it go.
“My daughter sent me a meme the other day and it said, ‘Introducing yourself: what I think it means,’ and it had all these full circles,” Johnson said. “Then he said, ‘What does it really mean’ and one is half full, the other is quarter full, and so on.
“We believe that every day we have to show up and give our 100% for everything. You can’t do that physically. We have to give each other grace – and that’s fine.